It was July of 2013 when I realized I needed to become more knowledgeable regarding computer-adaptive assessments in schools.
While traveling home from a meeting with our charter school’s authorizer, a colleague and I discussed the lack of progress observed during our first year leading an urban charter school serving a largely African-American population plagued by poverty. We knew we had to change our approach.
As we began to research, we came across some interesting information we had never even considered. This information alone helped us to develop our improvement plan. The revelation was this; A leading authority on assessments noted that African-American males of the same intelligence (as their classmates from other demographic backgrounds) will tend to score lower on computer-adaptive assessments due to their tendency to rush through the assessment, especially the beginning questions.
This rang true for us as we had observed this very behavior while proctoring computer-adaptive assessments the prior year. We observed African-American males finishing these assessments long before their classmates and scoring significantly lower, even though other assessments suggested they possessed equal, if not superior intellectual capability.
We decided to implement a strategy designed to control the pace of future computer-adaptive assessments in an effort to improve overall academic outcomes, but specifically those of African-American males.
We came up with an improvement plan and it named it the “First Five” which quickly became one of our success stories and significantly raised our performance on assessments. The First Five is as simple as follows: The proctor controls the pace for the first five questions of any computer-adaptive assessment test.
How to utilize the First Five method:
- Upon entering the testing environment, each student is walked through a series of prompts, which serve to keep the entire class together until they encounter the first question.
- When they arrive at the first question, the proctor instructs the student to read through the question and provide a visual signal upon completion of reading the question.
- Next, the proctor asks the students to provide an additional visual cue once they believe they understand what is being asked of them in this particular question.
- At this point, the proctor gives permission to respond to the question.
- This process is repeated for the next four questions.
This strategy serves to greatly slow down the pace of the assessment and to assist students in responding thoughtfully and carefully to the first five questions of each assessment. This is vitally important in a computer-adaptive assessment as the answers provided to questions determine the rigor of subsequent questions. For example, those students responding correctly to questions can expect the difficulty of subsequent questions to increase, but the opposite is also true. Like so much in life a strong beginning is integral to a successful outcome.
“Like so much in life a strong beginning is integral to a successful outcome.”
The implementation of this strategy served to increase scores not only for African-American male students but for all of our students. During the fall of the first year of implementation, we observed gains in all grade levels for mathematics and nearly all grade levels in reading. Moreover, during the spring round of assessments we observed historical numbers of student attain the college readiness standards for both mathematics and reading and unprecedented numbers of students achieve their growth targets for the academic year.
Over the past four years, I have observed similar results in other schools across the state. If you are looking to increase student—and school—performance on computer-adaptive assessments, I urge you to consider adopting the First Five method we have found to be so successful.